April 3 — Najib’s day in court

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 29, 2019.

Najib being swarmed by the media at the Parliament building yesterday as interest into his impending trial builds up. Photo by Bernama

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KUALA LUMPUR: The High Court has fixed Wednesday, April 3, to start hearing the seven criminal breach of trust and abuse of power charges against former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, in relation to the RM42 million SRC International Sdn Bhd’s money that was deposited into his accounts.

Justice Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali yesterday set the hearing for 2pm on that day.

Earlier, the prosecution, led by Datuk Suhaimi Ibrahim, wanted April 3 and April 8 to 12 for the hearing.

However, Najib’s lawyer Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Havinderjit Singh are not available from April 8 to 12, according to Havinderjit, who told the court that both he and Shafee had other cases on those dates.

The lawyer instead suggested that the court fix the hearing dates after September, with the reason that beginning April 15, their team would be involved with another trial for Najib that involves RM2.28 billion worth of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) funds. In the 1MDB case, Najib is facing 25 counts of money laundering and abuse of power.

“We may need some time to prepare for the 1MDB case which is a case that is also given priority,” Havinderjit argued. The 1MDB trial has been fixed to start on April 15 until May 3 at the High Court by Justice Collin Lawrence Sequerah.

Justice Mohd Nazlan then suggested that the case could start earlier, on April 1, but Suhaimi said the prosecution needed time to subpoena the witnesses and that fixing the hearing on next Monday would give them too short a period to do so.

Suhaimi also told the court that the prosecution is toying with the idea of writing to the Chief Judge of Malaya, Tan Sri Zaharah Ibrahim, to ask for permission for some dates from the 1MDB trial to be allocated to the SRC trial.

“The prosecution also feels this case is a priority, besides the 1MDB case. We cannot have the hearing on Thursday (April 4) as there are appeals by Najib and the prosecution at the Federal Court.

Both Havinderjit and Justice Mohd Nazlan are of the view that it would be up to the prosecution to write to Justice Zaharah as it involves the same parties. “We do not mind if the 1MDB case is taken off for this case,” Havinderjit added.

Justice Mohd Nazlan then fixed the start of Najib’s SRC trial on Wednesday, saying the court will take it from there.

Meanwhile, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mohd Izzat Fauzan told the court that the prosecution will not provide a list of their witnesses to the defence in the SRC case following the Court of Appeal’s decision last week that it need not provide the document.

Earlier yesterday, Najib was at Justice Sequerah’s court, where the appointed prosecutor and former Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram said the prosecution is applying to amend the second, third and fourth charges faced by the former premier.

Following that, the court interpreter read the amended charges to Najib and he claimed trial to all three.

The amended charges were:

i) that Najib abused his power as the prime minister, finance minister and 1MDB chairperson of the board of advisers to receive RM90.899 million in his AmIslamic accounts between Oct 31, 2012 and Nov 20, 2012, by approving 1MDB subsidiary 1MDB Energy Sdn Bhd, to bid RM10.6 billion for the proposed acquisition of Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd, where he has an interest.

The former finance minister, is also said to have approved the acquisition of equities in Sykt Mastika Lagenda Sdn Bhd, at an aggregate purchase price of RM2.75 billion and further approve 1MDB Energy to undertake the issuance of US$1.75 billion 10-year structured interest notes.

ii) that Najib had abused his powers as the prime minister, finance minister and 1MDB chairperson of the Advisory Board of 1MDB, by receiving RM2.081 billion in his AmIslamic accounts between March 14, 2013 and April 10, 2013, by approving 1MDB to enter into a joint venture with Aabar Investments PJS and approve a letter of support to 1MDB Global Investment Ltd for the purpose of the issuance of US$3 billion bond on behalf of 1MDB, in which the former premier has direct interests.

iii) that Najib abused his position as prime minister, finance minister and chairperson of the 1MDB Advisory Board when he received gratification of RM49.930 million by approving 1MDB through 1MDB Energy to obtain a US$300 million loan through the Initial Bridge Financing Facility from Deutsche Bank AG, and for the same bank to give an additional US$975 million loan for the purpose of 1MDB Energy Group initial public offering.

All three charges were made under Section 23 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Act 2009. If found guilty, Najib stands to face a maximum jail term of 20 years and a fine not less than five times the amount involved.

Sri Ram told the court that the witness statements to the 1MDB trial will be ready by Monday (April 1), and that two additional bundle of documents in relation to the case will also be handed over to the defence that day. This is in addition to the 21 bundles of documents the prosecution has handed over to the defence.

There was a debate regarding the amendments to the fourth charge, after which Justice Sequerah directed the parties to address the matter when the trial starts on April 15. He also fixed April 1 for case management.